Fantasy Football 2014: WR Rankings, Risers, Fallers, Sleepers and Risks
The diva wide receivers love to catch everything, especially praise. Fantasy owners tend to believe the hype, particularly in this pass-happy, modern-day NFL. Careful, though, you might be catching flak.
Receivers have become bigger and bigger pieces to the fantasy football puzzle. They are getting picked over running backs in the early rounds more than ever, and a full complement of wideouts will litter fantasy rosters before the highest-scoring position in fantasy (quarterback) is even considered now.
All this amps up the expectations and forces us to get our picks at this position right.
In this slideshow, we update the wide receiver rankings heading into the penultimate preseason games, analyze a set of risers and fallers, and review the sleepers and risks to avoid. Our rankings are produced by roughly projecting a player's role, health and statistical potential, with a little fudge factor weighed in from average draft position (ADP) data.
WR Rankings: Cleveland Browns' Josh Gordon Is Dead Last Instead of No. 1
We are still waiting on the decision of Josh Gordon's appeal of a one-year suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, but Gordon hasn't done himself any favors in the meantime. Head coach Mike Pettine had to call out his effort after Monday night's loss to the Washington Redskins, according to ESPN.com's Pat McManamon.
The feigned effort might be Gordon anticipating the worst in the coming days. ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio wrote there has been no negotiation for a reduced suspension, which means it could be a whole year or nothing. It certainly doesn't seem like Gordon will get nothing here.
If you have been looking for reason to reach up for Gordon in the middle rounds of your draft before the appeal decision comes down, there was an ominous sign in Monday night's preseason game: Gordon played into the fourth quarter, McManamon reported.
Week 1 starters don't play into the fourth quarter of preseason games, especially outside of preseason Week 3.
We rank Gordon dead last in our top 120 wide receivers below, after he finished as the No. 1 scoring wideout in fantasy football a year ago, per FFToday.com.
You just cannot draft Gordon at this point.
Updated Wide Receiver Rankings
|Rank||Wide Receivers||Team||ECR||vs. ECR|
Riser: Eagles' Jordan Matthews Looks Capable of Immediate Impact
We write all the time about how we hate rookie wide receivers. They are raw and generally overrated in fantasy. Hype gets them drafted, and lack of polish keeps them from being immediately productive (save for a few exceptions, like Keenan Allen a year ago).
Jordan Matthews has looked like one rookie wideout capable of providing consistently useful fantasy numbers.
After struggling with a few drops in his Philadelphia Eagles debut, Matthews reeled in nine receptions on nine targets, a preseason Week 2 high, and 104 yards. You have to love Matthews' volume of targets to date, particularly in the Chip Kelly offensive system that promises to run the most plays in the NFL.
You really, really have to love Matthews' No. 60 average draft position (ADP) on FantasyPros.com. When a rookie receiver falls into the late rounds like that, there is no overhyping him. Anyone is a value, especially a 6'3", high-volume target.
Matthews told Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com the game will only continue to slow down for him:
That is how it is going to be my rookie year. The speed is going to pick up. It was the same way my first practice. First practice, everything seemed real fast, then it started to slow down for me. First preseason game, stuff seemed kind of fast, [Week 2] it slowed down. Going to be the same way in the regular season.
Matthews has easily outdistanced fellow rookie Josh Huff, who went down with a shoulder injury and is currently in a sling, according to Zach Berman of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Matthews has been the most impressive rookie receiver in the preseason, even if you consider picking Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin and Brandin Cooks ahead of him.
Faller: New York Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. Hamstrung by Injury Woes
From one exciting rookie wide receiver to another on the other end of the preseason stock spectrum: Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring) has merely proven to be injury-prone in training camp. NJ.com Giants beat writer Jordan Raanan tweeted it's "not looking good" for Beckham being ready for the start of the season.
It doesn't even take an injury to pass on Beckham in fantasy drafts right now. Eli Manning has looked horrible in the preseason, and the adjustment to offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's West Coast offense figures to take time.
"He's been in every meeting," head coach Tom Coughlin told Howie Kussoy of the New York Post. "He knows the offense, he knows the terminology. The stamina, the endurance part of it, those kind of things, it's all going to have to be accomplished."
A rookie receiver needs a perfect set of circumstances to make an immediate impact in fantasy football, and even then, most are merely reserve options in drafts. Beckham's circumstances have not only been less than perfect, they have been damaging to his value.
You can completely ignore Beckham in redraft formats and get a shot at him off waivers once he proves healthy and capable of contributing. It is going to be weeks, if not months, before anyone is going to care about Beckham in fantasy.
Riser: 49ers' Michael Crabtree out to Prove He Is No 'Sorry Receiver'
We cannot stop referencing Richard Sherman's boastful NFC Championship Game celebration, because it was just so legendary. We are about to find out the San Francisco 49ers' Michael Crabtree is no "sorry receiver."
We already have myriad reasons to love Crabtree in fantasy. Most of them are a function of the reasons people don't like him. It makes for a talent being available to us later.
First, fantasy owners place value on what they have seen. They couldn't have liked what they saw from Crabtree down the stretch a year ago, as he was coming off a May 2013 Achilles surgery. Crabtree managed just one touchdown and one 100-yard game—and then he suffered the indignity of Sherman's trashing of him on national TV.
Second, Colin Kaepernick just wasn't quite ready for prime time in his first full season as an NFL starter—take note, Nick Foles lovers. Kaepernick is going to be a lot better with a healthy receiving corps, which is bolstered by the arrival of Stevie Johnson.
Also, Kaepernick himself was playing at something less than 100 percent, according to CSNBayArea.com's Matt Maiocco. Kaepernick and Crabtree are about to take off.
Third, Crabtree might have returned down the stretch, but he did it far sooner than most coming off the surgery he was rehabilitating. He came back at something less than 100 percent, he said.
"I was fast enough to be on the field," Crabtree told Maiocco. "But I wasn't me."
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Crabtree is in his prime at age 26 (he turns 27 in September) and is due to be a free agent after the season. This is a potential 1,200-yard, 10-touchdown receiver who is merely the 19th-ranked wide receiver in FantasyPros.com's current ADP.
Faller: Kansas City Chiefs' Dwayne Bowe Has Added Insult to Injury
After the season he had a year ago, we didn't need any more reasons to dislike the Kansas City Chiefs' Dwayne Bowe in fantasy leagues. Dink-and-dunk quarterback Alex Smith already has struggled to get the ball downfield to Bowe, and now we have insult added to injury.
Bowe might be as worthless as he was in fantasy a year ago, when he finished just 44th among fantasy wideouts, per FFToday.com.
"His finger is shot," Reid told Teicher. "It's been thrown out of place about 15 times, and he's not catching the ball. But he's getting his work done. You can practice with that type of thing."
Sleepers: Drafting Receivers Early Flies in the Face of Logic of a Deep Position
- Third-year receivers: Historically, an NFL wideout comes into his own in his third year. By this time, the routes, quarterback and play-caller's trust and issues with drops are all smoothed out.
- Overlooked sophomores: Rookie wideouts always tend to be overrated, so targeting those highly hyped prospects who disappointed us in fantasy last season can reap us surprising rewards. We saw last year's rookies and mostly didn't like the numbers. Now, they can come back to us.
- New face in new place: A bottom feeder for one team who signs in the right place can emerge with a career year.
- Second year in a new home: Like we said above, if the first year of increased expectations disappoint us, the second year can leave a wideout on the board later, and the numbers might surprise us.
- Injury-risk sleeper: The injury-prone label can be a death knell to fantasy value. It doesn't mean a player is doomed to be injured. We should like the opportunity to draft a talented receiver later due to perceptions of injury risk.
- Prime-timers: Age has a large correlation with production. A fantasy player's career tends to take the shape of a bell curve, with the peak coming around the age of 27.
- Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles (injury-risk sleeper)
- Eric Decker, New York Jets (yes, even him, because his team has downgraded him to a reasonable level)
- Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks (injury-risk sleeper)
- Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings (only if he falls out of the top 25—the hype is so high, he might not)
- Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans (third-year receiver)
- Terrance Williams, Dallas Cowboys (overlooked sophomore)
- Hakeem Nicks, Indianapolis Colts (downgrade due to injury risk, contract year and new face in a new place)
- Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos (new face in new place)
- Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams (overlooked sophomore)
- Danny Amendola, New England Patriots (second year in a new home)
- Rueben Randle, New York Giants (third-year receiver)
- Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati Bengals (third-year receiver)
- Stevie Johnson, San Francisco 49ers (new face in new place)
- Kenny Stills, New Orleans Saints (overlooked sophomore)
- Aaron Dobson, New England Patriots (overlooked sophomore)
We don't quite understand it (save for points-per-reception leagues, of course): If we don't draft the highest-scoring position in fantasy (quarterback) early because there is depth, why are we drafting the deepest position in fantasy earlier and earlier?
It defies logic. We can find good starting wideouts in fantasy football.
As many as five wideouts have been picked in Round 1 of drafts this summer: Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall. Four of them are in FantasyPros.com's top 14 ADP even in non-PPR formats.
But, as we reviewed in Bleacher Report's WR blueprint earlier this month, there are dozens of wideouts you can consider sleepers, starting in the middle rounds. We broke down a handful of ways to categorize receivers who can outperform their draft position:
Using the above criteria, here is a reprinting of our favorite wideouts (outside of the top 25) whose production can trump their fantasy draft position:
Risks: Age, Injury and Decline Are the Warning Signs
Risk always seems to be measured in the same ways. It can come from age, injury woes or just general decline as the years, injuries and wear piles up.
B/R's WR blueprint dug deep into the causes of busts and provided you the names. We will refer you back to that comprehensive analysis and leave you with the wideouts to be wary of relative to draft position because of the above reasons:
Age-related risks to avoid: Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, Vincent Jackson, Wes Welker, Andre Johnson, Marques Colston, Reggie Wayne, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith, Miles Austin and Greg Jennings.
Top injury risks: Julio Jones, Randall Cobb, Percy Harvin (although he could fall to a reasonable round), Welker and Cecil Shorts.
We agree, there can be less risk involved with picking wideouts versus running backs, but that doesn't mean you should amp up the risk by reaching for a player at a position so deep.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.